Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Anniversary of cyclone Gonu vs Myanmar

The current situation in Myanmar is proving to be an interesting ‘compare and contrast’ exercise with Oman’s recent cyclone Gonu.

Nowadays the cyclone is only referred to by the media within Oman by the semantic phrases ‘unusual weather conditions’ or ‘last year’s adverse weather conditions’. [For examples, see a recent article in the Pulitzer prize-winning Times of Oman, or the incisive Oman Tribune.] Presumably this re-writing of history is so as not to frighten the tourists and avoid an increase in the insurance premiums of the Wave, Yeti, Sifa or the countless other ocean front developments (all of which could get hit really hard by another tropical cyclone, should one appear).

The 1 year anniversary of tropical cyclone Gonu, for that is what it was, will be on June 6th. Will the anniversary be ignored, or used to remind everyone how absolutely fantastic all the Government’s emergency response efforts were, with some parades and more medals for the great and the good? As far as I know, officially only 49 people died. While rumours abound that the actual number killed or never found was more than a thousand.

Or will the date be used to highlight the current state of recovery in Quriyat and Sur, Tiwi and Wadi Shams, Ras Al Had? And the lack of any significant improvement to the storm drainage of the capital?

Interesting though, how when Oman refuses immediate emergency aid from other countries after a cyclone [oops, I meant to say unusual weather] it's naturally a good thing, done only to test the countries true emergency response capability (which of course they passed with flying colours. Nothing could have been done better or faster, and no outside help was needed). This was effectively clarified in the interview His Majesty gave recently.

But when Myanmar refuses immediate emergency aid from other countries after a cyclone, everyone seems to agree they are a country being run by arrogant dictatorial idiots needlessly exposing innocent people to further depravation...


I sincerely hope another Gonu does not spoil the party this summer. The country seems just as unprepared as it was before, with no significant improvements to critical infrastructure or drainage. Oh, I forgot, we have built a lot more buildings in the Wadis of Qurm and Seeb though, so that'll be great…


  1. The reason the Omani media doesn't call it "cyclone Gonu" and refers to the cyclone by "the unusual weather conditions" is that His Majesty himself referred to what Oman went through last year by the "unusual weather conditions" and I believe he also wanted the media to refer to it by that phrase. It sounds much more better, and straight to the point. What Oman went through last year was unusual and hence it should be called unusual weather conditions.

    The Oman media was referring to the cyclone as Cyclone Gonu until His Majesty gave his speech to the citizens & residents of Oman about the cyclone, and instead of calling it "Gonu" he was just referring to it as "unusual weather conditions" all the time, and since that speech of HM, the phrase Cyclone Gonu has been vanished from the vocabulary of the Omani media and replaced by the "unusual weather conditions" as His Majesty called it.

  2. Amjad,

    Perhaps you should read a novel called 1984.

    It was a cyclone. A big freaking tropical cyclone. And it showed how rubbish the urban planning in Oman is, with totally inadequate drainage. Plus a civil defense response that was brave, but haphazard, untrained, uncoordinated, and under-resourced. More than 75% of the army was totally unused.

    Emergency pumps, bulldozers and tankers of water and trucks with emergency supplies turned away at the border.

  3. Dragon, you just lost points with me.

    Myanmar has suffered deaths of approximately 78,000 and a further 56,000 are missing (source: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/7409644.stm . Compare that to Oman's 1000, or lets double it, 2000. Who cares about Oman? You cannot compare the two. If Oman had suffered deaths of 78,000 and still refused aid, then that really is foolish, much like the Junta in Myanmar is. But this was 1000 people. Dont get me wrong, I think aid should be accepted when it is offered, and am amazed that Oman turned it down, but to make a comparison between Gonu and Nargis is not acheivable. Nargis killed 77x more people, and possibly over 100x more people.

    You cant just build storm drains without planning it, and you cant just funnel it all out to sea at any old random place, it needs to be researched, planned and then built, and that takes a lot of time. But I will say this: The continued construction of buildings in Wadi's just kills me, and yes, a lot more storm water drainage needs to be done, but when it rains once a year, and only storms like that once every 100 years, you can understand that they have higher priorities to do. But all new roads being built DO have storm water drainage lines built into them.

    Now, where are those pics of the Sultans boat?

  4. Lurker,
    Ah well.
    I know that in terms of scale of damage and fatalities they are very different (mainly because we don't live on a big flat delta), but I still think its an interesting and valid comparison in terms of how the refusal of help is interpreted. Also, Oman's refusal was not very public, and help was only offered from neighbours as far as I'm aware [not USA/UK/etc]. In fact, until HMs interview, it was never mentioned in the press, only in rumours. I was amazed the question got asked and printed.

    And how much suffering (if not deaths) could have been alleviated if help had been received earlier? (because in the end, help was taken) The suspicion I have is that aid was refused more because Oman has a chip on its shoulder wrt the UAE, and perhaps was afraid of some kind of quid pro quo demand, than for the reasons stated. IMHO you should test your emergency response in exercises, not during the real thing.

    As for the infrastructure, yes it takes time to do it properly. We'll see. But by describing the cyclone somewhat dismissively as unusual weather, and given the cost to do it properly, my estimate is that nothing proper will be done at all. Why else would building in the middle of Qurm Wadi be allowed?

    And I don't believe that Gonu was a freak '100 yr storm' in these times of increasingly 'unusual weather' everywhere. We were really lucky it had degraded to a level 3 when it reached the capital, and had a very small surge associated with it (because of the wind ahead of the eye blowing north not south?). Next time, who knows?

  5. Oman did accept some outside help, which I will elaborate on in a minute.

    I'm with the Dragon on both of these. And I'm a little pissed, though not half as pissed as my friends in Wadi Tiwi, or thier cousin's in Quriat are.

    Firstly, I doubt an idea as dumb as demanding that Gonu Must be referred to as Unusual Weather would have come from somebody as wise as HM.

    Also, Unusual Weather would be Snow or Hail. A cyclone, While unusual, is something more.

    Second, It was a CYCLONE! A freaking Category Five Hurricane! A Cyclone that flodded my entire house, four of my cars, and knocked out the water and power in my neighbourhood for almost two weeks.

    Third, The comparison with Myanmar is a little unfair, but totally accurate. More help should have been accepted here. Full stop.

    Maybe the powers that be had plenty of drinking water, and enough food. Maybe thier streets were not three feet deep in water filled with bloated animal carcasses, raw sweage, and rotting food. Perhaps they had electricity to keep themselves cool through the searing June heat.

    I, and all of my neighbours, would gladly have accepted help from anyone offering. NOT ONE Local government service showed up in our sector for days. The government presence on my street was limited to guys with DIwan plates and Minister plates taking thier families sight-seeing.

    They even stopped to take pictures, Excited little kids and wives pointing at our house and cars and at me, desperately trying to make one car live again.

    When the cavalry finally arrived, it was four days after the flood, and the Help came from..... DUBAI! Dubai sent A fleet of pumpers and miles of hoses to pump the water out, a fleet of backhoes to dig all the rubbish, and some trucks to carry it away.

    Gonu could have been so much worse had the winds been different. Here's hoping Oman can do a little better next time, both in the prepatory planning stage, and the Execution.

  6. I'm so glad others are leaping on the "unusual weather conditions" bandwagon - for a while I thought I was tripping when I kept reading it. 1984 indeed, or Humpty Dumpty and Alice Through the Looking Glass:

    'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less.'

    'The question is,' said Alice, 'whether you can make words mean so many different things.'

    'The question is,' said Humpty Dumpty, `which is to be master -- that's all.'

  7. Orange is a fruit, apple is a fruit and therefore an Orange is an Apple! Mr. Undercover Dragon, with all due respect, I don’t think Oman and Myanmar's situation are the same. Although at the time I did not think so, Oman had the capabilities to begin work after the aftermath of Gonu. The scale of the "unusual weather" is different, and the casualties in Myanmar far exceed Oman's. By no means am I saying that Myanmar should do anything differently, but I can see why the reaction is different.
    Finally, I don’t care what people call it "unusual weather", Hurricane, Cyclone....etc as long as the weather books have it correctly cited I am fine.

  8. Dragon: Where did I mention that it was not a cyclone?

  9. Strangely enough, I was looking at some videos on YouTube the other night and came across the Sultan's televised message right after Gonu. In the speech, he does use the "unusual weather conditions" wording. His words in Arabic were "أنوع مناخية إستثنائة" which I think are better translated as exceptional weather conditions. When you put the whole context together, his words were "God has destined that, during the preceeding days, our dear country has been subject to exceptional weather conditions, the results of which are known to you."

    Coming at a time when everyone one in the country knows exactly what he is talking about and knows full well it was a cyclone, this language is the sort of stateman-like phrasing one could expect in a head of state announcement anywhere in the world. However, when the press picks up this wording and holds itself to it at all costs even a year later, especially with the loss of meaning in translation to English, it becomes bizarre. I think this is more of a case of press self-censorship and sycophancy than Big Brother.

  10. Amjad,

    Its just that you said that 'unusual weather' was what it should be called.

    I think you hit the nail on the head - that makes sense. HM uses a phrase in the right context, and the morons in the media turn it into some kind of rules beyond all common sense. Although it should be noted unusual weather also seems to be the rule in the Oman News Agency, a Ministry of Information dept, so big brother is there too, but the same explaination prob holds. They're all second guessing HM, because I'm sure no-one went to him and explicitly asked, or were told, to keep calling cyclone Gonu unusual weather no matter how 1984 it makes the media seem.

  11. Just received this email:

    "A tropical storm could hit Oman and Yemen at the end of this month, an international weather bureau predicted this week.

    According to the UK-based Directorate General of Meteorology and Air Navigation (DGMAN), landfall of a cyclone is forecast to strike the coastal region of the two countries on May 29, UAE daily Gulf New reported on Tuesday.

    “We are in preparedness,” an official told the newspaper, which also cited a report by the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF), predicting the onset of this year’s monsoon could feature a cyclone in the west Arabian Sea.

    “The system is forecast to develop in the west central Arabian Sea and is expected to make a landfall over the Yemen/Oman coast around May 29,” a forecast said on Monday, adding its onward movement would echo that of Cyclone Gonu, which devastated the coast of Oman in June last year.

    I have also heard rumours of VERY high temperatures this summer.

    Any truth in this? Might buy some water!

  12. rjay

    see next post. So far there is NO SIGN what-so-ever of a cyclone.

    And yes, its fcuking hot. Duh. Its summer in Oman. As a result its always fcuking hot.

    Can't wait for my holidays, but its still lovely in the evenings, and at least now the sea is a fantastic 31 or 32 deg. I hate cold water.

  13. "Pulitzer prize-winning" lolllz!!!


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